U.S. President Barack Obama's administration should reverse its decision to suspend the passport of U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and end its efforts to prosecute him as policymakers push to change the programs he exposed, a group of activists said.
It's not rational for the U.S. Department of Justice to continue to push for Snowden's prosecution on treason-related charges when Obama is poised to end the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. telephone records, said Coleen Rowley, a former special agent, division counsel and whistleblower at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"It is extremely incongruent to be fixing what's you're forced to fix ... and to say that the person who made this possible is somehow to blame," she said during a press conference on Tuesday. "It doesn't make sense at all."
Rowley spoke at a press conference hosted by RootsAction.org, a progressive government watchdog group that plans to present two petitions on Snowden Wednesday to DOJ and Department of State officials. Late Monday, The New York Times reported that Obama is planning to unveil a proposal that would end the bulk phone-records collection at the NSA that Snowden exposed.
Also Tuesday, Representatives Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, and Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, introduced a bill that would end the bulk collection of U.S. telephone and Internet metadata by the NSA. The two, both of whom had been vocal defenders of the NSA programs, said the bill was needed to ensure the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. residents.
A RootsAction.org petition asking the State Department to restore Snowden's U.S. passport has more than 64,000 signatures, and a petition asking the DOJ to not interfere with Snowden's travels or political asylum process has more than 42,000 signatures.
"This man made a wise and honorable decision to expose the unpleasant truth," wrote one person who signed the DOJ petition.
Another person wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry: "Stop treating this man like a traitor. He did the right thing by exposing the abuses you and your kind have been perpetrating on the American people. You are just upset that you were exposed. Do the right thing, then you won't have to worry."
The DOJ believes Snowden should return to the U.S. from Russia and face charges, a spokesman for the agency said. If Snowden returns, "he will be accorded full due process and protections," he said via email. "As the attorney general has said repeatedly in the past, Mr. Snowden is not a whistleblower.A He is accused of leaking classified information and there is no question his actions have inflicted serious harms on our national security."
Rowley and Ray McGovern, a former analyst and whistleblower at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, both called on the Obama administration to end its efforts to prosecute Snowden.
The U.S. is at a turning point on the NSA surveillance programs, Rowley said. Some NSA defenders in Congress are questioning the extent of U.S. surveillance since earlier this month, when Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the CIA of illegally searching her committee's computers, Rowley said.
"This is a serious moment," Rowley said. "We're at a moment now where it seems people are waking up."
Rowley called for an independent commission to investigate the NSA programs. "Edward Snowden should be the first witness," she said.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is email@example.com.